To the Editor:
Daniel Drezner’s recent essay, “You Could Not Pay Me Enough to Be a College President” (The Chronicle Review, December 14), is engaging and well-written, but I disagree with his central theme: “presidents and deans occupy terrible, no-win positions…[b]ecause the primary task of any dean or president is to deal with the most spoiled, entitled, pig-headed interest groups imaginable.”
I do not pretend to know what life is like for presidents of such elite institutions as Penn and Harvard. I am in my first presidency, at Peru State College, in Peru, Nebraska, and my experience here bears no resemblance to the bleak world Dr. Drezner describes.
I’ll start with the first of Dr. Drezner’s “spoiled and pig-headed interest groups”: students. Among the many reasons I accepted this role is Peru State’s mission: We provide students of all backgrounds access to personal, engaging, and transformational educational experiences. This mission attracts students for whom Peru State offers the right mix of academic excellence, energetic support, and human connection. Our goal is to welcome students of all kinds and inspire them, challenge them, help them, give them space to stumble and grace to recover.
When I walk across the quad, eat lunch in the dining center, sit in the audience at basketball games and choir performances, my greatest reward is the light in students’ eyes and the smiles on their faces. I gain energy and optimism when I talk with students and watch them gain confidence, conquer new disciplines, and build foundations for their future lives.
Dr. Drezner insists that “tenure-stream faculty members are worse.” I have found that the vast majority of faculty members are amazing, wonderful people who hold the success of students and the institution close to their hearts. Our faculty here at Peru State are a blessing, for our students, for this college, and for me. We have our disagreements, of course, and at times I have to make decisions that upset people. But students here thrive because of the impressive depth of caring and dedication our faculty exhibit every day.
Dr. Drezner tosses administrators, alumni, donors, and the state into the same wood chipper, with the same results. I enjoy working with all these groups, and while we do not always see eye-to-eye, their collective commitment to our mission is unmistakable.
Dr. Drezner’s dystopian vision is that “the number of folks willing and able to do these jobs will shrink into nothingness.” If his view of leadership rang true to my experience, I would be worried with him. But the things that matter — the students who challenge us every day to make them better, the colleagues who care about those students with a deep passion, the community and the culture that bring out everyone’s best — make this the greatest job on earth. And I am supremely confident that enough people will be attracted to the joys of the college presidency to keep our numbers strong for decades to come.
Peru State College